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Silver Willow Salix babylonica

Other Common Name(s):

Previously known as:

  • Salix matsudana
Phonetic Spelling
SA-liks bab-i-LON-i-ka
Description

The weeping willow is a medium to large deciduous landscape tree in the Salicaceae or willow family.  With pendulous, weeping branches, a stout trunk, and a broad rounded crown it makes a statement in any landscape. It will grow quickly to a height of 30 to 40 feet and a width of 30 to 40 feet but with that rapid growth comes weak wood. The pendulous branches sweep down to the ground from the crown of the tree. The leaves are linear, lanceolate, light green on the upper surface, and glaucous or grayish-green beneath. The flowers are male and female green catkins that are about 1 to 2 inches long. They appear on separate male and female trees. This tree is frequently seen near ponds and streams. 

This tree is native to East Asia but has naturalized throughout North Carolina.

The genus name, Salix, is the Latin name for this tree. The epithet, babylonica, means "of Babylon." The tree was given its name by Carl Linnaeus, who mistakenly believed the tree was from ancient Babylon, as was referenced in the Bible by the Psalmist. The tree is thought to have originated in China.

Weeping willow grows best in full sun and prefers acidic moist soil though it will tolerate alkaline soils. This tree will not tolerate cold.  It is one of the first trees to leaf out in spring and the last to drop leaves in fall. Pruning to remove heavy branches can help with breakage.

This tree is a larval host plant and attracts specialized bees will being mildly resistant to damage by deer.

Its graceful habit is effective as a specimen at the edges of ponds and lakes or any low spot in the landscape that retains water.  It works well on slopes to prevent erosion. This tree is not typically recommended in the home landscape due to littering, breakage, disease, and insect problems. Its invasive roots can also damage the water or sewage pipes. 

Seasons of Interest:

Bloom:  Spring            Foliage: Spring, Summer, Fall

Quick ID Hints:

  • medium to a large deciduous tree with grayish-brown or grayish-black bark with furrows
  • weeping, pendulous branches, stems are reddish-brown to yellowish-brown
  • leaves linear, lanceolate, serrated margins, a light green upper surface, and glaucous on undersides
  • flowers are male and female catkins are born on separate trees in the spring
  • male catkin is the showiest, with no petals, only stamens, 1 to 2 inches long
  • fruit is a dry green to a brown capsule that releases cottony-like seeds, ripens in late May to early June

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  Many insects are seen including aphids, scale, borers, lace bugs, and caterpillars.  This tree is susceptible to many diseases including blights, powdery mildew, leaf spots, and cankers. The wood is weak and cracks or breaks easily. Snow and ice can damage the tree. Tree litter such as leaves, twigs, and branches can be problematic in the home landscape. In residential and commercial sites, the rootlets will invade a crack in a pipe and proliferate, clogging it and backing water up for major repair costs.

VIDEO Created by Elizabeth Meyer for "Trees, Shrubs and Conifers" a plant identification course offered in partnership with Longwood Gardens.

More information on Salix.

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See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
'Aurea', 'Babylon', 'Crispa', 'Golden Curls', 'Scarlet Curls', 'Tortuosa', 'Tristis', 'Umbraculifera'
Tags:
#weeping#deciduous#wildlife plant#large tree#winter interest#tsc#erosion control#standing water tolerant#pond margins#specialized bees#fast growing#cpp#aggressive#deer resistant#weak wood#lakes#pollinator plant#fantz#larval host plant#deciduous tree#gray-green leaves#wet soils tolerant#butterfly friendly#tsc-t#bee friendly#viceroy butterflies#medium size tree#landscape plant sleuths course
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
'Aurea', 'Babylon', 'Crispa', 'Golden Curls', 'Scarlet Curls', 'Tortuosa', 'Tristis', 'Umbraculifera'
Tags:
#weeping#deciduous#wildlife plant#large tree#winter interest#tsc#erosion control#standing water tolerant#pond margins#specialized bees#fast growing#cpp#aggressive#deer resistant#weak wood#lakes#pollinator plant#fantz#larval host plant#deciduous tree#gray-green leaves#wet soils tolerant#butterfly friendly#tsc-t#bee friendly#viceroy butterflies#medium size tree#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Salix
    Species:
    babylonica
    Family:
    Salicaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Native Americans used twigs and bark for medicine. They were chewed to relieve headaches. It was later found that salicylic acid was an active ingredient in the bark ad twigs. Aspirin was derived from willow plants.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    East Asia--China
    Distribution:
    Introduced: United States--AL, AR, CA, DE, D.C., FL, GA, KY, MD, NC, SC, TN, VA; Mexico; South America
    Wildlife Value:
    This plant supports Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) larvae which has two to three broods from May-September. Adult butterflies feed on decaying matter, aphid honeydew, and nectar from composite flowers. Members of the Salix genus support the following specilized bees: Andrena (Parandrena) andrenoides, Andrena (Thysandrena) bisalicis, Andrena (Tylandrena) erythrogaster, Andrena (Andrena) frigida, Andrena (Micrandrena) illinoiensis, Andrena (Andrena) macoupinensis, Andrena (Trachandrena) mariae, Andrena (Parandrena) nida, Andrena (Micrandrena) nigrae, Andrena (Micrandrena) salictaria, Andrena (Parandrena) wellesleyana.
    Play Value:
    Attracts Pollinators
    Wildlife Larval Host
    Dimensions:
    Height: 30 ft. 0 in. - 40 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 30 ft. 0 in. - 40 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Broad
    Rounded
    Weeping
    Growth Rate:
    Rapid
    Maintenance:
    Medium
    Texture:
    Fine
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Frequent Standing Water
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasional Flooding
    Occasionally Wet
    Available Space To Plant:
    24-60 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8b, 8a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Green
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Spring
    Fruit Type:
    Capsule
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit is a dry, hard, capsule. It is initially green and turns brown when ripened. A capsule that releases many tiny, down-covered, or cottony seeds. It does not attract wildlife. They are not showy and create litter. They ripen in late May to early June.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gray/Silver
    Green
    Insignificant
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Insignificant
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    Male and female flowers are born on separate male and female trees. They are silvery-green, non-showy, and appear from April to May. The male catkin is the showiest with only stamens, no petals, and measures 1 to 2 inches long.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Gray/Silver
    Green
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Long-lasting
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Lanceolate
    Linear
    Leaf Margin:
    Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    < 1 inch
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are alternate, simple, and linear-lanceolate. They are 3-6 inches long, 0.5 to 0.75 inches wide, acuminate, cuneate, and have finely serrated margins. The leaves are light green above, and grayish-green or glaucous beneath. They are glabrous, and the stipules are slender. The fall foliage is greenish-yellow or sometimes golden yellow.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Black
    Dark Brown
    Dark Gray
    Surface/Attachment:
    Furrowed
    Bark Plate Shape:
    Irregular
    Bark Description:
    The bark is gray-brown or gray-black with irregular furrows.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Gold/Yellow
    Red/Burgundy
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Buds:
    Scaly
    Stem Bud Scales:
    Enclosed in a single cap like scale
    Stem Surface:
    Smooth (glabrous)
    Stem Description:
    The stems are reddish to yellowish brown and smooth. The nodes are rounded, hairy, and point downward. The wood is weak and susceptible to breakage and litter.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Pond
    Riparian
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Rain Garden
    Water Garden
    Winter Garden
    Design Feature:
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Butterflies
    Pollinators
    Specialized Bees
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Black Walnut
    Deer
    Erosion
    Wet Soil